Overview of a Bachelor’s in Mental Health
A bachelor's degree in the behavioral health field, mental health, psychology, or a related field will help students prepare for their master's degree program in behavioral health counseling. It also helps candidates obtain entry-level employment in acute psychiatric facilities, residential treatment programs, or governmental agencies that provide mental health services. Candidates with an undergraduate degree will be able to find employment as mental health professionals in mental health services facilities, psychiatric patient care coordinators, victim's rights advocates, social services workers, and family rights advocates. As for their career moving forward, they will not be licensed as full mental health counselors until they earn additional education in the form of a master's degree in mental or behavioral health counseling or a related field, requiring another 60 credits after the bachelor's degree level is earned. On top of their bachelor's degree level general education, those earning a behavioral health degree or mental health degree will take courses in behavioral health science, behavioral health counseling theory and practice, counseling psychology, human behavior, family dynamics, and more.
Entry-level work in the mental health field is often found in social services or as a psychiatric assistant, behavior technician, or psychiatric technician. Psychiatric assistants may be able to obtain employment right out of high school, but other facilities require employees to have a bachelor's in psychology, mental health, or a behavioral health counseling degree. Behavioral health technicians have a certification process that only takes 180 days, although some of these positions also require a bachelor's degree in addition to a certification. Psychiatric technician positions only require an associate degree or a post-secondary certificate, many of which can be earned in online programs. These positions are entry-level and do not receive as much pay as that which may be commanded by someone with a bachelor's degree in psychology or mental health. These positions also may not come with quite as much responsibility as those for someone with a bachelor's mental health degree or behavioral health degree.
The problem with only having a bachelor's in mental health or psychology is that the positions that are available at this degree level do not command much more pay than the entry-level mental health jobs such as psychiatric assistant, behavior technician, or psychiatric technician. Also, their level of responsibility is not much more than that of candidates in the latter jobs. For example, people who have only a bachelor's in mental health, behavioral health counseling, or psychology will not be able to do formal psychological counseling, nor will they be able to design interventions or assessments. They will simply be implementing interventions that those with higher degrees and certifications design.
Positions with better pay and more responsibility come with a master's degree in mental health, counseling, or psychology as an absolute minimum. For example, mental health counseling positions tend to require a master's degree and clinical hours in order to receive state licensure.
Certificate vs. Bachelor's
What Mental Health Bachelor’s Degrees are Available?
- Bachelor of Arts in Mental Health
The BA signifies that the coursework that is not in the major itself is more focused upon a liberal arts and humanities education. A bachelor's in mental health will usually have more of an emphasis upon issues like mental health assessment, policy issues in mental health, and crisis management as opposed to a bachelor's in psychology. Students in such programs are more likely to be assigned an internship at a mental health facility.
- Bachelor of Science in Mental Health
A BS in this field signifies that the program has a scientific, technical, and hands-on focus in its coursework. There will be more of an emphasis on biology, calculus, and chemistry coursework.
- Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Sciences
While there are fewer bachelor's degrees that actually are labeled as “mental health”, many programs that aim at providing coursework on mental health assessment and treatment as well as crisis management fall under the label “behavioral sciences.” Other programs are bachelor's in psychology but provide tracks that move students toward careers in mental health.
- Bachelor of Arts or Science in Psychology
The bachelor's degree in psychology is going to be a broader umbrella that covers the entire field. According to Concordia University, a BA in Psychology allows the student to pursue more varied career goals after graduation that can include child or organizational psychology or careers in other fields, such as social work, education, journalism, business, political science, or law. Thus, a bachelor of arts allows the candidate the freedom to choose coursework to specialize in whatever subfields or multi-disciplinary paths that may advance their future career goals. U.S. News and World Report emphasizes that students should seek out such coursework in related fields while pursuing their bachelor of arts in order to pursue multi-disciplinary careers.
Candidates will need to provide their high school transcripts, often some letters of recommendation from teachers and/or employers and their SAT or ACT scores. It depends upon how competitive the program is to determine the exact minimums required, but usually 3.0 is the minimum GPA for admission to most programs. Often, candidates will also need to submit a statement of purpose.
How long does it take to earn a Mental Health Bachelor's?
It takes four solid years of full-time coursework in order to earn one's bachelor's degree in mental health. There are, however, accelerated programs that can move you into the degree sooner. This usually entails taking coursework throughout the summer term. Students who have to work and attend school or those who have family commitments often find that they need to take a somewhat reduced load of courses. This makes their completion date extend beyond four years.
Students who need to work and attend school should consider looking into scholarships and grants that will allow them to use some of the proceeds to pay for living expenses. This will allow them to devote their efforts to their degree full time.
Potential Careers in Mental Health with a Bachelor’s
- Psychiatric Care Coordinator:
Psychiatric care coordinators work with a treatment team committed to provide therapeutic interventions for patients. They do not design interventions at the bachelor's level but provide education and case management to patients as well as administrative support. Care coordinators carry out and coordinate the therapeutic intervention plan designed by a psychologist or psychiatrist for a given patient.
The average annual salary for psychiatric care coordinators is: $45,800.
- Mental Health Admissions Advisor:
Mental health admissions advisors work for private and public mental health facilities in order to field calls by prospective patients and their families. They are then tasked with coordinating the admissions process for the patient. They need to know the categories for admission to a psychiatric facility and also need to know about insurance coverage issues in order to help the family or patient determine how to pay for the treatment.
The average annual salary for a mental health admissions advisor is: $44,800.
- Family Advocate:
Family advocates can work in a variety of settings, such as in a foster care or child protective services agency, a Head Start program, or in some other social work setting. They provide care and support to families through education, informal group therapeutic interventions, and guidance.
The average annual salary for a family advocate is: $35,800
- Victim's Advocate:
Victim's advocates tend to work for a district attorney's office in a county or municipality. Their role is to help gather information and resources for both the district attorney and the victims so that the latter are able to navigate the court system and seek relief from harm that has been committed against them. They also often accompany victims to court and explain the court process to the victim and their family.
The average annual salary for a victim's advocate is: $35,900.
- Probation Officer:
Probation officers work with other law enforcement professionals to ensure that people accused and/or convicted of crimes are kept from committing further crimes. They have regular meetings with people who have been placed on probation to ensure that they are meeting the guidelines of their probation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, candidates who have taken courses in criminal justice in addition to their bachelor's in psychology can be considered for employment as probation officers.
The average annual salary for probation officers is: $43,500.
Options to Advance
The most obvious and best means of advancing in the mental health field is to at least earn your master's degree in mental health counseling or a related field. Most jobs in the field - such as mental health counselor, marriage and family counselor, school counselor, and drug and alcohol counselor positions - are not entry-level. All of those who hold such positions have a master's degree as an absolute requirement. Most of these positions require post-graduate licensure as well. This entails having your master's degree, as well as completing clinical hours in order to achieve state licensure.
Best Bachelor of Science in Mental Health Programs
Stanford offers a bachelor's degree in psychology with a health and development track that is of interest to those who want a bachelor's in mental health. Stanford will allow students to tailor their programs as long as there is a theme to the coursework choices. There is an honors program for seniors that allows candidates to pursue intensive research. Candidates chosen for the honors program are required to have demonstrated academic excellence in their first three years of undergraduate work at the university and to have availed themselves of opportunities in their upper division coursework to participate in research.
- Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, Health and Development track
University of Michigan - Dearborn
UoM's Behavioral Sciences bachelor's program allows students to take coursework in the psychology, sociology, and anthropology departments. The idea is that this helps students to more understand behavior in the context of individual choices made in a group setting that also have cultural contexts. The goal is to prepare students for employment in counseling, mental health programs, the social work field, or in criminology. The coursework encourages hands-on experience in the field. Students can tailor their program and are provided internships in either psychology, criminal justice, or social work. Students also have the opportunity to participate in paid work experiences.
- Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Sciences
University of Minnesota
Minnesota University's program that is most of interest to those looking for a bachelor's in the mental health field is their Bachelor of Science in Psychology. Minnesota University has a strong scientific and research focus on their program. Students will take coursework on biology, cognitive and neurosciences, chemistry, and mathematics. The goal is for students to graduate the program and move on to research or healthcare careers and further studies. There is also a research capstone project.
- Bachelor of Science in Psychology – Focus on Mental Health
University of California - Irvine
UC Irvine's bachelor's in psychology and social behavior has students begin learning about developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, and health. Students then move to study of cognitive development in all ages, behavioral disorders, and counseling/therapy. This is a cross-disciplinary program that includes coursework in psychology and the law. Students are able to work with faculty on research projects and are encouraged to do so. Students also have the opportunity to engage in field study in clinics, counseling centers, legal settings, social service agencies, and hospitals.
- Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Social Behavior
Boston College's applied psychology bachelor's degree program has two tracks of interest to students who intend to begin careers in mental health. The Human Services Track provides information for students on the challenges people face that keep them from typical mental health and wellness. It provides students with the knowledge of how to work at the individual and community levels in order to promote mental health. The Community, Advocacy, and Social Policy Track provides students the understanding of community psychology and the tools and knowledge to advocate for children and families and for community mental health and well-being.
- Bachelor of Science in Applied Psychology and Human Development (three tracks)
Traditional Schools Offering a BS in Mental Health
Drexel offers a hands-on, evidence-based program to help candidates become competent and skilled psychology and psychiatric service providers. Students learn how to assess and plan treatment for patients with psychiatric and substance-abuse issues. They learn how to counsel patients individually and in groups, provide rehabilitation and recovery treatment, as well as how to provide child and family interventions.
- Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Counseling
Purdue University Global
West Lafayette, Indiana
Purdue University Global's bachelor's degree in addictions has students use evidence-based, scientific problem solving to assess patients who are suffering from addictions. Students learn the major theoretical basis, psychological studies, and research methods that are a hallmark of the field of addiction psychology in order to help them assess, treat, and provide case management to patients.
- Bachelor of Science in Psychology - Addictions
Florida Tech began in 1958 to help educate workers in the space industry. The liberal arts-focused applied psychology program has three tracks of interest to those who are interested in careers in mental health – a child advocacy track, a clinical psychology track, and a forensic psychology track. Graduates will be able to seek employment in social work that relates to children, as case managers and counselors.
- Bachelor of Arts in Applied Psychology – Four tracks
Oregon State University
Oregon State's Human Development and Family Sciences degree includes coursework on human development and aging, issues of children with disabilities, families and poverty, family studies, family violence, and neglect and parenting issues. Internships are available throughout the country. Students can add a minor such as anthropology, sociology, business, or public health in order to create a multi-disciplinary focus.
- Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Sciences
University of Cincinnati
UoC's substance abuse counseling bachelor's program has start dates three times a year. If students take more classes during the regular school year and a full load in the summer, they can finish their program in two years. There is a strong emphasis on research and practical, hands-on skill application. Upon graduation, students will have met licensure requirements for the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professional Boards and will be able to be licensed as a substance abuse counselor.
- Bachelor of Science in Substance Abuse Counseling
Psychology Counseling Degrees & Career Paths